I recently met a police officer two years older than me. I started talking to him and having friendly conversation before learning that he was a cop. Naturally, upon finding out about his career, I asked him his thoughts on the current Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality. His response was “Yea, it’s a shame that it was a few bad cops. I work with hispanic people and stuff. I’m definitely not racist.”
This is where we can look to explain racism as learned, systemic and implicit. People do not have to be overt, hostile racists to engage in a racist system that benefits only them. Confirmation bias is a psychological concept in which people seek out sources that confirm their beliefs (Heshmat, 2015). Something I have noticed in conversations of racial injustices, is that confirmation bias works in conjunction with white fragility. White people seek out information that confirms the notion that the world is an equal and just place. Despite the fact that this is not the case, they are content because their white fragility and comfort with the world are protected. My point by saying this is that they people who need to really learn more about racial injustices are not likely the ones who will be seeking out the proper information because it would put these feelings of security at stake.
This man who I was speaking to genuinely believed that things have gotten better for people of color in the United States, but that was all he said. He failed to further explain his beliefs. I find this belief particularly troubling, because while black people are no longer enslaved, there are many failures of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment that core curriculum neglect to teach. Most people do not even know that the 13th Amendment made forced labor legal as punishment for a crime. So while I agreed with him that not all cops are inherently bad, overt racists, what he – like many others – neglect to recognize, is that the police system, along with many other institutions in the U.S. is inherently racist. I recently watched the documentary 13th. After the 13th Amendment, Black people went through the Second Slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow laws, segregation and much more. Every change that has been made under the claim that it “serves to help black people”, is laced with implicit biases and motivators.
Yes, one cop killed George Floyd, one killed Elijah McCalin, and a few killed Breonna Taylor. But those are not the only black people who have been brutally killed at the hands of racist cops. The disproportionate rates of Black men being arrested and killed by police have been going on for generations. It just took a global pandemic where privileged people experienced loss to realize the issue. With the obstacle of confirmation bias in mind, what is one simple way that we could educate people who think that racism is over in the United States?